URBANA-The Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC) ran a series of healing discussions in April designed to help local African Americans cope with and respond to racism.
UNCC provides year-round academic, social-emotional, and recreational support for school-aged youth, but adult discussions were created because of the impact 2020 had on youths and adults alike. The police killings of unarmed Black people had an emotional impact on Black communities at-large and added to stress caused by racism.
It was in this environment that UNCC took advantage of the Healing Illinois initiative. The grantee's director Janice Mitchell used the $15,000 grant to create Racism, Reaction and Recovery, a series of Zoom discussions for African-Americans in Urbana to discuss their experiences openly. Additionally, teens and adults discussed how to react to offenses "in the most productive way that they can" in the future, Mitchell said.
"We, in the Black community, must push through an approach within our households and other areas of life to deal with these encounters of racism," she said.
The adult discussions were guided by the ethos of the song by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, "Wake Up Everybody." The song encourages people to take action to improve society. The teen discussions were book discussions. Youth of the UNCC (predominately African-American) held Zoom sessions with youth from the Mahomet Youth Club (predominately white), to facilitate discussions on protesting and racism through a reading of Omeaka Jackson's "Mommy, What's A Protest?"
"Our kids are the ones who complain most about racism in schools," Mitchell said. "So, there needs to be a systematic, community-wide push to teach our kids how best to deal with those instances. Some of the ways our kids respond get them thrown out of the classroom. If they are in the community, they get in trouble if they say the wrong things. So, it's unfortunate that we have to be back at a place where we're having to teach these things, but we have to."
Beyond the discussions, Mitchell is looking forward to carrying out a public media campaign to promote human kindness in the Urbana area. The campaign will include billboards, yard signs, posters, and events for kids.
The campaign is timely and historical.
Mitchell said that racial segregation by neighborhood is a fact of life in Urbana. She added that other disparities in income and government leadership, particularly in administration, law, and justice, also exist.
However, Urbana is working on making changes. In February, the city council approved a resolution to recognize and reject the city's history of segregation and racial oppression. The citizens also elected another African American to the city council that same month, of which Mitchell is proud.
With the help of the Urbana School District, the city, the mayor, the local United Way, and other organizations and councils, Mitchell will set about thinking, teaching, and building the change she wants to see. For example, she is working with her network on plans to reach out to schools to help African-American children with the difficulties they encounter with racism.
Mitchell said that Black people "have to find our own representative voice within those different entities to look out for our best interests. I don't mean that in a bad or divisive way. It's just that we've got to have people in place who can do that, who can pull our people together."